Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The End Is Near

The End Is Near

The last fifty pages are the hardest.

That’s what I tell myself--and know to be true--as I pass page 130 (I’m on page 132, to be exact) of an approximately 180-page, single-spaced manuscript. Because that’s what translates into a 380ish page text, which is what the Alison Bergeron mysteries usually come out as when they become a book.

Page 130 or so is pivotal because I’ve already laid the groundwork for the mystery, thrown in a few red herrings, established my secondary characters (those who aren’t Alison, Crawford, Max, Fred, or Kevin), and am barreling toward the conclusion.

The only problem is that I don’t know how the story is going to end.

This is a common problem for me, as you know if you’ve been reading The Stiletto Gang since our inception this past winter. I race, race, race to the end only to find that I have nothing left to say. Or I have too much to say and would need another hundred pages to say it. Either way, it’s not pretty. So, I’m trying to take my time and figure out what would make the most sense given the story, the characters, and the setting.

I’m much further along than I was last year at this time, which is a very good thing. Last year, as I sat writing on New Year’s Eve (my deadline), I wrote myself into a corner where all of my major characters were at a crossroads, and not in a good way. Fortunately, my agent had the good sense to tell me that the ending that I had conceived (which amounted to, essentially, “…and then they all died”) really wasn’t going to please the reading public. I went back to the drawing board and was surprised to find that I was able to end the novel in a pleasing and suspenseful way, if I just took a minute or two to figure out what would make the most sense in this imaginary world that I had created. In my haste to make my deadline, I had created an ending that would have upset a lot of people (nobody died but relationships were put to the test with some not making the grade). Had I just gone a day or two over the December 31st deadline—and face it, was St. Martin’s really going to give me grief about that—I would have been able to see the forest for the trees. Or write a convincing ending to the story.

I’m determined to not make the same mistake. So with fifty pages to go, I’m going to take my time and think about what makes the most sense. Nothing fantastical, nothing jarring—just a neat tie-up of the story and the characters’ lives, leaving open the possibility of novel #5, for which I already have a title, but not a story, which is not usually how things go. (For “Quick Study” I was down to the wire before I came up with that one and now? I love it.)

I’ve always thought of myself who works best under pressure but in the case of finishing a novel, I’m finding that pulling an all-nighter or writing down to the deadline just doesn’t cut it. So check back as I try to stick to a five-page per day writing regimen, which will allow me ample time to write and then rewrite, and then, if necessary, rewrite again before my New Year’s due date.

Today doesn’t count because I just got back from vacation. And also because after I finish writing this post, I’m going to head downstairs and continue reading Evelyn’s Murder Takes the Cake manuscript, which if I don’t finish right away, will definitely derail me from my own writing!

I’d love your feedback? What are you writing regimens? And do they work? And how soon after you write, do you revise? And have you ever written anything as ridiculous “…and then they all died”? Inquiring minds want to know.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Hi Maggie,

    I've never thought about killing off all my characters at once but sometimes killing off a character or two frees up the plotline. Marian and I say a few words in memorary of the departed and move on!

    Five pages a day on new writing is about the best "Evelyn David" has been able to do. Rewrites and editing, we manage to go a little faster.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  2. I kind of rewrite as I go along, and then do it again once I'm through.

    I think we all have times when we wonder how it's all going to end. I've had the murderer all picked out and as I've written more and more realized that one didn't do it at all, it was another character. That sort of revelation always amazes me.